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Posted on 7 Mar 2024 in Fiction |

SUSAN McCREERY All the Unloved. Reviewed by Ann Skea

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Susan McCreery’s novel recounts the lives of the residents of a block of flats in 1990s Bondi and the complexities of love.

A few short sentences and a scene is set, a mood caught, a character revealed: all this is beautifully done. Then short passages are linked together like beads on a thread and a story is created.

Seaview Terrace.

Bondi, 1994.

Two vacancies.

The mother’s in books. He’s a teacher, says Salvia. Respectable.

The daughter had a skateboard, says June. She’d better not ride it up and down the side path.

Salvia and June, sisters, landladies. The girl with the skateboard, Jade, 11 years old, still learning about life.

It is Jade, more than any of the other characters, who threads this story together. ‘Ann-mother’ is strict and, in Jade’s eyes, unloving. Jade likes Tony, Ann’s schoolteacher partner, but Tony and Ann argue.

Tony does not shout. Tony does not hurl a jar of marmalade at the wall. Cold her.

Stay Tony. Please stay.

Glen Masters, ‘the quiet violinist’ whose wife divorced him (‘she wanted earthiness, she told him … She wanted to be with people who were alive, not forever in their heads’), has just moved in after living briefly in a cave on the Bondi cliffs. Glen plays in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, but he is desperately insecure. Words are ‘dry lumpy things that get stuck in Glen’s throat or come out ugly and misshapen’. Jade likes Glen but Ann does not:

You keep telling me what to do. ‘Don’t talk to Mr. M. He’s strange, don’t trust him,’ blah blah blah. You won’t listen to anybody. No-one can tell you anything.

You need to grow up. ….

It’s your fault you’re on your own, shouts Jade. You drove Tony away. You’d drive any man away.

Jade’s cheek stings from the slap for a good five minutes.

Rebecca ‘the fascinating’ – the ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ – is a young author Ann is helping and who, for a while, moves into their apartment. Rebecca shows an interest in Jade and is especially kind to her, but also to Glen, Tony and Ann.

‘I want you to meet her,’ Jade tells her friend Lara, ‘she’s really nice and a really great writer and really nice,’ and Lara says, ‘Sounds like you’re in luuurve’ … ‘It’s okay if you’re gay,’ says Lara, pressing gum beneath her seat.

Jade does not know what ‘gay’ means, but Gretel and Lucinda, who occupy another apartment in the block, are gay.

Landlady June:

Watches the two women walking side by side, shoulders brushing, as naturally as a man and a woman. In her day you never spoke of it, this invisible known. Sometimes she wonders what they do together, lesbians, then feels shame for even thinking about it.

Jade’s passion is skateboarding, ‘which is after all a sport’, she tells herself after skipping school PE to go to the skate park. Her encounter there with Reynald, ‘big and not nice, thinks he’s god’s gift’, leads to a shocking and ‘disgusting’ kiss, but some time later Reynald ‘slug-tongue’ has become only a ‘zoned out’, ‘blank-eyed’ observer at the skate bowl, where Jade has become good enough to give tips to other young girls.

As summer goes on, Jade turns 12; Rebecca’s book ‘is published to wide acclaim’; Gretel and Lucinda part amicably; Salvia and June discover that Tony’s dad is an old friend and a romance blossoms; Glen agonises over his love for Rebecca; and Jade learns about stealing, about predatory males, and about the disappointments and pains of love, having seen the scarf Rebecca has given Glen and Glen’s reactions, and then also seen her with Tony:

Jade says miserably, I know about you and her.

Yes. Tony rests his arms on either side of the table, hands loose. I’m sorry Jade.

Do you love her?

No. It was … nothing. A non-thing.

Tony watches the girl in her suffering. Love can drive you to theft and who knows what else.

Things happen which the reader understands but Jade does not. Jealous of Glen, she nevertheless follows him, worries about him when she sees him at the cliff edge, and walks home with him. She falls out with Ann-mother about it:

Go inside, Ann tells Jade, and to Glen: I’d like you to stop associating with my daughter.

Judge and jury. Fury. She’s got it all wrong, thinks Glen. Or has she? ….

Very dark now. Back to the familiar. Perhaps his best days, in the cave. No-one to think bad things of him; no-one to draw him in to loving.

Susan McCreery tells her story in small, carefully crafted pieces. Nothing, even the most dramatic moment, is spelled out, but the overall effect is imaginatively satisfying. All her characters are simply revealed, and the complexities of love are explored through their interactions with each other. Each of them, at some point, feels unloved (hence the title), but that is not the end of the story. ‘If only love were simple,’ landlady June thinks:

Love what you love! She wants to tell them all. But what does she know of their stories and pain. Nothing. Only her own. Only now. Tomorrow it could all change.

Susan McCreery All the Unloved Spineless Wonders 2023 PB 126pp $24.99

Dr Ann Skea is a freelance reviewer, writer and an independent scholar of the work of Ted Hughes. She is author of Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest (UNE 1994, and currently available for free download here). Her work is internationally published and her Ted Hughes webpages ( are archived by the British Library.

You can buy All the Unloved from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

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